2014 Winter Solstice
Elf On The Shelf
The Elf on
the Shelf is a scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa
Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. The doll comes with a
Laura Pinto and Selena Nemorin say this is a capillary form of
power that normalizes the voluntary surrender of privacy, teaching
young people to blindly accept panoptic surveillance and reify
When children enter the play world of The
Elf on the Shelf, they may not touch the doll and they must accept
that the doll watches them at all times with the purpose of
reporting to Santa Claus. They are taught to accept or even seek out
external observation of their actions outside of their caregivers
and familial structures.
The Elf on the Shelf contributes to the shaping of children as
pack for a Jesus doll that reports to God.
Good As Gold
ruled the world, I would rewrite the economics textbooks. This would
be a big step toward a better civic life. Today, we often confuse
market reasoning for moral reasoning. We fall into thinking that
economic efficiency defines the common good. But this is a mistake.
Economics presents itself as a value-neutral science of human
behavior. Increasingly, we accept this way of thinking and apply it
to all manner of public policies and social relations. But the
economistic view of the world makes for an impoverished public
discourse, and a managerial, technocratic politics.
reconnect economics with its origins in moral and political
philosophy. Consider the growing use of cash incentives to solve
social problems. The NHS is experimenting with cash rewards to
people for losing weight, quitting smoking, or taking medications. I
would ask whether the cash incentive might drive out attitudes worth
Market reasoning must answer to moral
Collecting for the Mayor's
Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes
The Sunday Times
Hundreds of British troops from the Parachute Regiment
and the Royal Armoured Corps will deploy to Iraq in early 2015. A
fleet of Foxhound, Ridgeback and Mastiff vehicles is being prepared
in Dubai, where they are stored after airlift from
My New Zealand nephew
Commander John Sellwood won the top award for the Advanced
Command and Staff Course
Top: Mount Sharp,
Bottom: As the
crater once was?
2014 December 20
Juden hinter Muslime
Die Pegida-Bewegung stellt sich gegen eine
angebliche Islamisierung in Deutschland. Nun stellt sich der
Zentralrat der Juden hinter die Muslime.
Zentralratsvorsitzende Josef Schuster: "Wir dürfen die Pegida-Leute
auf keinen Fall unterschätzen. Die Bewegung ist brandgefährlich."
2014 December 19
With the Mayor of Poole,
Borough of Poole Councillors, the MP for Poole, and others
Royal Motor Yacht
A man not preoccupied with the excellence of
his dinner should be suspected of inaccuracy in other things.
Vali R. Nasr
The Mideast is in turmoil. Islamic State is
carving out a new Sunni realm in Iraq and Syria. Arab governments
tremble at popular demands for change. America needs Sunni partners
and Shiite partners, and President Obama has suggested that the
United States and Iran should collaborate against Islamic State, but
a resolution of the nuclear standoff is necessary for broader
strategic cooperation to develop. An investment in grand strategy
would be the surest way for America to free itself of Mideast
2014 December 18
Methane On Mars
NASA says Curiosity has detected methane at
about 1 part per billion in the Martian atmosphere. Life might be
the source. On Earth, animals burp or fart methane as a waste gas.
On Mars, underground microbes could be putting out the gas.
Other processes can make methane. Rocks bearing olivine on Mars can
react with water to produce methane. Subsurface clathrates can
release it in bursts over time. And it can be made in reactions
between cosmic dust and UV sunlight.
NASA is planning a Mars
2020 mission as part of a campaign to bring back Martian rock
samples. A joint European-Russian mission will launch the ExoMars
rover and a Mars trace gas orbiter in 2018 with the goal of looking
2014 December 17
Hundreds of schools in Turkey are caught up in
an education overhaul that threatens to roll back the country's
secular foundation. The Justice and Development Party (AKP)
government led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says it is responding to
demand, but parents and teachers from affected schools say that the
conversions are being pushed through against their wishes.
The government plans to build mosques in 80 different state
universities and to convert one Istanbul university into a center
for Islamic learning. Almost a million pupils are enrolled in
imam-hatip religious schools, in which around a quarter of class
hours are dedicated to Sunni Islamic study. Parents and teachers say
administrators are restricting optional classes so pupils are forced
to take religious ones.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk established the
Republic of Turkey on the ruins of the Ottoman empire in 1923. Over
15 years, he set about rooting out the influence of Islam from
Turkish society. He banned sharia courts, closed all madrasas, shut
down private Islamic orders, and banished religious education from
state schools. Turbans and the fez were banned, and the hijab was
outlawed in public offices. Atatürk abolished the caliphate.
Since Atatürk's death in 1938, resistance to his reforms within
Turkey has steadily eroded them. Some even contend that the entire
Republican project was a mistake. The present government's religious
agenda could expose Turkey to the turmoil roiling Iraq and Syria.
Across what was Nineveh, Iraqi Christians
spent this year fleeing from village to village, hoping to find
safety somewhere. Now in Acton, London, a beleaguered congregation
of Iraqi Christians sing hymns in Syriac, hear sermons in Arabic, and
pray for the dead in Aramaic.
Everybody in this London
congregation has a story. They tell of Muslim neighbors stealing
their houses. Some of their relatives were taken to the mosques and
forcibly converted to Islam. Others were martyred. A woman: "It is
2014 December 16
PEGIDA - Patriotische Europäer gegen die
Islamisierung des Abendlandes - bringt immer mehr Bürger auf die
Straße. An diesem Montagabend sind in Dresden 15.000 Menschen
gekommen, so viele wie noch nie. PEGIDA vereint sie alle: die
Frustrierten, die Ängstlichen, die Wütenden.
Zuwanderungsschwemme, irgendwann ist mal Schluss", wie ein
48-Jähriger ruft. Gegen die "Wirtschaftsflüchtlinge, die sich in der
sozialen Hängematte Deutschlands" ausruhen, wie es ein 51-Jähriger
ausdrückt. Gegen "die obere Klasse, die Politik, die sich
abschottet", wie ein etwa 60-Jähriger sagt.
Lutz Bachmann: "Wir sprechen nicht mit der Presse, dabei bleibt es.
Vorhin habe ich aber mit Al-Jazeera ein Interview gemacht."
German police have noted a significant rise in
far-right extremism and attacks targeting foreigners. The trend is
seen as a backlash against a sharp increase in refugees arriving in
Dresden has seen a rise in anti-Islam "Monday
marches" under the slogan PEGIDA, "Patriotic Europeans Against the
Islamization of the Occident", which drew over 10,000 people a week
A poll for Spiegel found a majority of Germans were open to some of the views voiced by PEGIDA. A third of those
polled believed Germany was undergoing a process of Islamization,
while two thirds said the German government was not taking current
record levels of immigration and asylum seekers seriously enough.
Germany has an estimated 4 million Muslims, in a total
population of about 80 million.
2014 December 15
UK prime minister David Cameron visited Poole today. He
spoke on the economy at Magna Academy and visited a housing
development in Hamworthy.
2014 December 14
The Russian Military
Russian conventional forces dwarf those
of its Eastern European and Central Asian neighbors. As part of
defense reforms, most Russian ground forces are to be
professionalized and reorganized, but for the foreseeable future
many will remain conscripts with limited training.
intent on remilitarizing its Arctic territory and is restoring its
airfields and ports to help protect hydrocarbon resources and
shipping lanes. But much military equipment remains decades old. The
Russian navy is little more than a coastal protection force. All of
its large vessels are holdovers from the Cold War.
air power is also limited. Most of the air force dates from the Cold
War, but modernization of air and space defenses is a top priority
of the rearmament program. A consolidated Aerospace Defense Command
will deploy a SAM system near Moscow and along the Russian border.
The Russian nuclear arsenal remains
on par with the United States. Moscow has about 1,500 strategic
warheads on deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles,
submarines, and heavy bombers. There are also believed to be some
2,000 nonstrategic nuclear warheads. Moscow appeared to lower its
nuclear threshold in 2000, permitting the use of such weapons in
response to major conventional attacks.
The Russian military
budget has more than doubled over the last decade, behind
only China and the United States. Russia is about halfway through a
$700 billion weapons modernization program.
acknowledge that there is now little threat of a large NATO land
invasion but they criticize the eastward expansion of the alliance.
NATO members need to prepare for Russian guerilla tactics and Baltic
governments should be wary of Russian subversion.
The American Middle
The stock market is soaring and US
unemployment is sinking. But all that growth has done nothing to
boost average pay. Real household median income is still lower than
it was when the recession ended.
The American middle class is
in trouble. Over the past 25 years, the economy has grown 83%, after
adjusting for inflation, but typical family income has stagnated.
Corporate profits have doubled as a share of the economy and workers
today produce nearly twice as many goods and services per hour on
the job as they did in 1989. Yet in 81% of US counties, the median
income is lower today than it was 15 years ago.
share of Americans enjoy the fruits of an expanding economy.
Republicans and Democrats keep promising to help the middle class
reclaim its prosperity, but to no avail.
2014 December 13
The Sexual Revolution
In the battle of ideas, some academics
once believed that sexual minorities could subvert the system. The
personal was political. The heterosexual penis and oppressive
patriarchy went hand in hand and led to rape, nuclear war, and
Today everyone wants to be like
boring white heterosexuals. Sexual outsiders have come in from the
margins and bought into the lifestyle of the Great White Males they
once despised. It is not the white male heterosexual who is facing a
crisis of identity, but members of the gay, lesbian, and transsexual
community. They have lost their transgressive edge.
heterosexual male can no longer expect everyone to conform to his
idea of sexuality or being normal. The sex war is over. We boring
white heterosexual males have won.
2014 December 12
Russians have created a society of
simulations, with fake elections, a fake free press, a fake free
market, and fake justice. They are led by religious Russian patriots
who curse the decadent West while keeping their children and money
in London. All cultures split the public and private selves, but in
Russia that split is often total.
As the Kremlin plays the
West, we see it extend the tactics it uses at home to foreign
affairs. At the core of this strategy is the idea that there is no
such thing as objective truth. The Kremlin replaces facts with
2014 December 11
The New York Times
President Obama is conducting the war
against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria under an outdated 2001
authorization, without explicit approval by Congress and without the
limitations that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has urged.
But there are too many red flags about the potential for mission
creep to ignore. Obama says he has all the authority he needs under
the 2001 authorization. Any action on his authorization must be
accompanied by a thorough debate about American policy toward the
Astronomers now estimate that our galaxy
contains at least as many planets as stars. Planets are normal and
the sun is an unremarkable star. Our solar system lives in a suburb
of the galaxy. Our Milky Way is just one of countless other
galaxies. Our collection of known planets contains ever more small
orbs that might have rocks and water, in a habitable zone where life
as we know it could exist.
Earthlings have made a huge
cultural shift, from wanting to be the center of the universe to
wanting not to be alone. What disturbs us now is to think Earth is
somehow special. Astronomers want to find a twin Earth. Otherwise we
might be alone, thrust back toward the philosophical center. The
discovery of Earth 2.0 will transform a numbingly cold universe back
into a cosmos we can connect with.
2014 December 10
Escape is not an option, at least not in a
time frame relevant to our current environmental predicament.
"It's a perfect planet," one of the astronauts says in
Interstellar, referring to spaceship Earth. "We're not going to
find another one like it."
Placards at climate marches:
"There Is No Planet B."
Gale Crater on Mars was once a large lake.
The Curiosity rover has found evidence of multiple cycles of water
flowing into a lake that could have lasted tens of millions of
years. The lake dried out and reappeared several times, laying down
the sediments that make up Mount Sharp.
conglomerate rocks full of pebbles that were probably deposited by
rivers. As it continued, the landscape changed to sandstones that
were all tilted toward the mountain.
scientist John Grotzinger: "If Mount Sharp had been there and water
had been flowing off Mount Sharp, it would be flowing downhill to
the north. But the rocks that are exposed show the water flowing to
Water flowed from the crater rim toward the
interior, filling up an ancient lake. At the base of the mountain,
sandstone layers become thinner and flatter, as if they were laid
down more slowly, without currents swirling them around. But how did
the Martian atmosphere stay wet enough to prevent the lake from
JPL deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada:
"The climate system must have been loaded with water. The question
is, could temporary climate fluctuations form what we see
geologically, or do we need longer term warm wet climate?"
2014 December 9
Rising inequality in the years after 1985 reduced UK
growth. The economy expanded by 40% during the 1990s and 2000s but
would have grown by almost 50% had inequality not risen. Reducing
income inequality could have increased growth over 25 years, with a
cumulated GDP gain of over 7%.
Governments should rejig tax
systems to make sure wealthier individuals pay their fair share.
Policymakers need to consider those at risk of failing to benefit
from the recovery and future growth. Countries that promote equal
opportunity for all from an early age will grow and prosper.
2014 December 8
City Loot Haven
The City of London is a haven for dishonest
officials from overseas to hide stolen money. Conservative MP
Stephen Barclay, who worked in senior anti-money-laundering roles at
the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and Barclays Bank, says a
long-awaited government anti-corruption plan does not address flaws
in the British financial system that allow crooked officials from
foreign countries to launder their loot in London banks. Barclay says UK government investigators do not have enough
time to carry out detailed checks on suspicious transactions in UK
SET for BRITAIN
SET for BRITAIN awards support and promote early-stage and
early-career research scientists, engineers, technologists, and
mathematicians in the UK.
2014 December 7
American capitalism is dedicated to the
cult of growth and expansion. The new boss is ever bigger, better,
and cooler than the old. The ideology of eternal improvement fits
pop sci-fi neatly. Technology advances and humans mutate into X-Men
without ever prompting a consideration of alternatives.
Science fiction is everywhere in popular culture. But it has largely
jettisoned the future. Star Wars is a fantasy in which tomorrow is
just a place to rearrange the robots on a Titanic that never sinks.
Progress has conquered the present so thoroughly it no longer even
needs to push forward.
Poole, 2014-12-06: Vishal Gupta, Cllr Carol Evans, Cllr Elaine Atkinson,
Robert Syms MP, me
2014 December 6
Christians make better humanists. Christmas
Christianity imagines God as a human infant.
not always been convincing humanists. In too many cases, religion
has stood over and against human flourishing. Denigrations of the
human should be an affront to Christian values.
human beings morally distinctive? Darwin was right but evolution
hardly encourages us to think of human beings as uniquely valuable.
Some may say because we are rational. But are rational people more
morally valuable than irrational ones? Surely not. No, it requires a
leap of faith.
Atheists are not always at the forefront of
defending human life when it comes up against other values such as
choice. If by humanism we mean that human being is morally superior to
all other categories, many of us find a more robust form of humanism
Angus Ritchie and Nick Spencer
Christians ought to be
proud of their humanist credentials, rather than seeing humanism as
a kind of atheism. Were it not for Christianity, the ideas of
humanism would not have developed in Europe.
faith provides a firmer foundation for humanist beliefs than
evolutionary atheism. A commitment to reliable rationality, to moral
realism, and to human dignity can only be secured on a theistic
basis. The price of humanism is philosophical rigor.
2014 December 5
The National Audit Office recently warned
that more than half of councils currently risk financial failure by
the end of the decade. The Local Government Association estimates
that the current £1.6 billion gap between adult social care demand
and available resources will rise to £4.3 billion by 2020. In town
and county halls there is talk of existential and financial crisis.
Orion Test Success
Orion is built to take humans deep into space. Orion will carry
a crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the
crew during the trip, and provide safe re-entry to Earth.
NASA launched Orion atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket on a successful
flight that tested many systems critical to safety, such as
avionics, attitude control, parachutes, and the heat shield.
In the future, Orion will launch on the Space Launch System. The SLS
will be capable of sending humans to deep space destinations such as
an asteroid and eventually Mars.
To curb the changing climate, we can:
Capture carbon from the air to form limestone.
2 Plant new growth forests to capture
carbon from the air.
3 Seed the
ocean with iron to feed microalgae that free oxygen from carbon
dioxide, then sink
into the depths,
sequestering the carbon.
the atmosphere with sulfate aerosols that absorb sunlight and cool
2014 December 4
Bet On Growth
UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
cut taxes for most homebuyers yesterday and bet on a growing economy
powered by rising property prices. Four years ago Britain had been
at the brink. Now it had "higher growth, lower unemployment, falling
inflation, and a deficit that is falling too".
To me, someone is secular if hen does not:
1 hold any supernatural beliefs about
deities, spirits, or netherworlds
engage in any religious rituals or rites
identify or affiliate with a religious group, denomination, or
Secularization is a historical process whereby a
given society becomes less religious over time. Whereas secularism
implies ideology, social movement, political agenda, how things
ought to be.
Jeffersonian secularism is the political
position that church and state ought to be separate and that
government ought to be as neutral as possible when it comes to
religion in the public square. This version of secularism is what
used to be called disestablishmentarianism.
growing in virtually all nations for which we have data. The vast
majority of people who walk away from religion don't miss it.
2014 December 3
Since 2000, Russia has been ruled by an
elite with origins in the old KGB. Horrified by the collapse of the
Soviet Union, a group of KGB officers hid state money in offshore
banks and used it to take over Russia. They maintain control by
issuing contradictory regulations that force everyone to violate one
law or another.
Vladimir Putin emerged as king of the
thieves. After he became president in 2000, he preserved some of the
language of reform in his public statements. He remained open to
relationships with NATO and with American and European leaders and
he regularly attended meetings of the G8. But he never abandoned his
KGB methods. He made no attempt to encourage entrepreneurial
capitalism in Russia or to create a legal system that would allow
small businesses to grow. People who did not play by his rules were
Putin systematically destroyed the nascent
institutions of liberal democratic society. He refused to tolerate
any real political opposition and eviscerated independent media. In
place of a genuine media and a real civil society, Putin and his
inner circle set up a system for manufacturing disinformation and
2014 December 2
Ukraine in NATO? Nein
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko
says he would like to hold a referendum on NATO membership. NATO
General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg confirms the right of every
sovereign nation in Europe to apply for NATO membership. Russian
President Vladimir Putin sees NATO membership for Ukraine
as a red line. Only the Baltic states and Poland currently support
Ukrainian accession to NATO.
Steinmeier: "Für die Bündnisfrage gilt: Ich sehe partnerschaftliche
Beziehungen der Ukraine mit der NATO, aber keine Mitgliedschaft."
Islamic State is determined to reshape the
Mideast as a unitary Caliphate. The number of Christians in Iraq has
dwindled from a million in 2003 to a quarter that number today. Half
a million Assyrians have fled, as have thousands of Armenians and
Greeks. Syria is even worse off. Arab states need to convince their
populations that the extremism of Islamic State is
destroying tolerant Islam.
2014 December 1
Marine Le Pen wins the support of her National
Front party for a presidential run: "Messieurs Sarkozy and Hollande,
you have failed in everything. You were entrusted with a treasure:
France. You were entrusted with a diamond: its people. You damaged
one. You abandoned the other."
Le Pen, 46, is polling ahead
in the presidential race for May 2017. With her anti-immigrant
stance and pledges to leave the euro and the EU, she has set the
agenda in a bleak political landscape.
AR Adieu, old EU.
The British RAF has taken delivery of
its first A400M Atlas military transport aircraft.
+ 1 = 0
AR Math = joy
2014 St Andrew's Day
Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, 140 years
2014 November 29
Saudi Arabia — Islamic State
Islamic State was born in the Iraq war
and is intent on restoring the caliphate. Its roots are in
Wahhabism, a form of Islam developed 200 years ago in Arabia.
During the 18C CE, revivalist movements sprang up as the Muslim
imperialists lost control of peripheral territories. Westerners were
separating church from state, but Muslim reformers insisted that God
dominated the political order.
Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab
(1703-91 CE) was a scholar in central Arabia. He was obsessed by
idolatry and opposed Sufism and Shiaism as heresies. He found a
patron in Muhammad Ibn Saud, a local chieftain, who enforced
Wahhabism with the sword. Ibn Saud's son took Mecca in
Wahhabism returned during WWI when a Saudi chieftain
carved out a kingdom with his devout Bedouin army, the Ikhwan. Over
time, the Saudis settled into religious conservatism and used oil
wealth to export Wahhabism worldwide.
Like the Ikhwan,
Islamic State represents a rebellion against the official Wahhabism
of modern Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are resisting its attacks on
AR Blame Lawrence of
2014 November 28
Vote for Paxman
Tory figures are wooing the broadcaster Jeremy
Paxman to run as a Conservative candidate for mayor of London.
Paxman, 64, at a literary festival this summer: "I have to be frank
— I suppose I am a One Nation Tory, yes."
The phrase "One Nation Tory" originated with Benjamin Disraeli,
who became Conservative Prime Minister in 1868, He presented his
political philosophy in two novels. He proposed a paternalistic
society with the working class receiving support from the
establishment and emphasised social obligation rather than
The Tory Reform
Group works to promote the values of One Nation Conservatism: a
modern, progressive Conservatism that strives for economic
efficiency and social justice; a Conservatism that supports
equality, diversity and civil liberties.
"The TRG has
contributed greatly to the Conservative Party over the last 30 years
and is central to where we need to be in the future."
AR I have to be
frank — I
2014 November 27
European Commission president Jean-Claude
Juncker announced a €300 billion spending plan to kick-start the EU
economy and revive morale: "We are offering hope to millions of
Europeans disillusioned after years of stagnation."
Too Good To Be True
A €300 billion plan to revive the eurozone
economy by investing in infrastructure. A Brussels fightback against
austerity. It sounds too good to be true.
And it is. There is
only €20 billion of new money, with the rest coming from the private
sector. Critics liken the scheme to subprime mortgage debt. In the
€13 trillion eurozone economy, the sum is small and will take time
to arrive. A list of projects will have to be assessed by a panel of
experts before a final list can be drawn up. This is a recipe for
The European Central Bank is likely to
opt for quantitative easing. This will dwarf the Juncker plan. But
at least he recognizes just how bad things are.
2014 November 26
Pope: Europe Ails
The New York Times
Pope Francis addressed the European
Parliament to say Europe has lost its way, its energies sapped by
economic crisis and a remote, technocratic bureaucracy.
recent years, as the European Union has expanded, there has been
growing mistrust on the part of citizens toward institutions
considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as
insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful."
On immigrants: "We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a
vast cemetery. The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are
filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance."
On work: "The time has come to promote policies which create
employment, but above all, there is a need to restore dignity to
labor by ensuring proper working conditions."
On the poor:
"How many of them there are in our streets! They ask not only for
the food they need for survival, which is the most elementary of
rights, but also for a renewed appreciation of the value of their
own life, which poverty obscures, and a rediscovery of the dignity
conferred by work."
Europe remains suffused with
Christianity. Even the EU flag designed by Arsène Heitz in 1955 was
inspired by Christian iconography of the Virgin Mary.
2014 November 25
The New York Times
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has
resigned. Officials said the decision was a recognition that the
threat from the militant group Islamic State will require new
skills. The US military is back on a war footing. In August Hagel
called Islamic State an "imminent threat to every interest we have"
when the administration was still struggling to define the threat.
was not seen as a strong secretary of defense. He was seen as having
become a conduit for the growing frustrations of the military
leadership in the Department of Defense toward the president and his
White House team, particularly regarding the growing threat posed by
the Islamic State.
But Hagel is not the problem. This
administration has alienated its own cabinet members more than any
other in memory. At a moment when most second-term presidents have
long since bid adieu to their campaign staffers and have focused on
governing, Obama is drawing his closer, providing him more of a
security blanket than an effective national security team. Anyone
offered the top job at the Pentagon ought to think long and hard
about accepting it without assurances that the White House will give
him or her (and the military) the latitude needed to fulfill the
2014 November 24
Self: The Great Illusion
As you wake up each morning, you gradually
become aware of your self inhabiting a human body. As wakefulness
grows, so does your sense of having a past and a personality. But
this intuitive sense of self is an elaborate illusion.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke at the Australian
Parliament in Canberra. He has generated immense excitement by
saying things Indians yearn to hear. But rhetoric and big plans
aside, India is still the same.
Shams, 26, was a doctor in Malaysia. She travelled to Syria and
married a jihadi. Her diary on their first meeting: "I was trembling
... After few minutes, I flipped my niqab. He looked at me ... and
asked ... 'Can we get married today?' "
played Alan Turing in
The Imitation Game.
Alan Turing invented the
Turing machine, designed the
cracked the Enigma code, and inspired the
Turing award. Cumberbatch:
"This man's achievements
International Festival will feature physicist
and the AR company
telling the story of the universe from the big bang to us.
Hen is a Swedish gender-neutral pronoun
introduced at two Stockholm nurseries in 2012. Today Swedes use hen
frequently and other Europeans are joining the
trend. Humboldt University professor Lann Hornscheidt: "Sweden is
really the pioneer."
2014 November 24
Islam: The Great Illusion
Hitler and Himmler had a soft spot for
Islam. Hitler fantasized that, if the Saracens had not been stopped
at Tours, Islam would have spread through the European continent and
Jewish Christianity would not have gone on to poison Europe.
The Nazis made sure that the Nuremberg laws were applied only to
Jews, not to other Semites such as Arabs. The Grand Mufti of
Palestine was useful to the Nazis as a propagandist, but few Muslims
believed that Hitler was the protector of Islam.
In the early
years of WWI the German Reich saw Muslims as their great hope
against the Entente. Instead, Britain and France capitalized on the
Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire and sliced up the Mideast pie between them.
After WWI, the
Entente curtailed Ottoman territory. But the Turks won the new
nation of Turkey. Germans portrayed them as trailblazers on the path
to strong nationhood. The Turkish treatment of minorities was the
true precursor for Nazi genocide.
After WWII, the United
States recruited Islamic leaders in its battle against the Soviet
Union. Washington even smiled on Saudi funding of radical Islamist
organizations, hoping that religion would serve as a bulwark against
Even now, President Barack Obama hopes to
use Iran as a stabilizing regional force. But Iran cannot be relied
on to bring peace to the Mideast, unless we aim at the end state
mocked by Tacitus: They make a desert and call it peace.
2014 November 23
A N Wilson
A Reluctant Leader? Germany in the 21st Century
Museum, London, 17 Nov 2014
Britain and Germany do not
understand one another. The Germans say federalism and are thinking
of a long history of the German-speaking lands, going back to the
medieval guilds and the Holy Roman Empire, where the pooling of
sovereignty and skills among the multifarious states of the place we
now call Germany was good. For the Island Race of Britons, however,
federalism looks like a threat to sovereignty and independence.
I came away from the British Museum feeling that a conference
that had begun with the best intentions had been hijacked somewhere
along the line by war. We spent half the day worrying about German
attitudes to modern immigrants and wringing our hands about the
Queen Victoria lost out to Bismarck. Had Wilhelm
II not become Kaiser, the First World War would surely have been
impossible. Victoria, like Michael Stürmer and all intelligent
Germans, carried in her bosom an instinctive memory of the Holy
Roman Empire, whose chaotic system of government allowed it to be
overthrown by French nationalism and the ambition of Napoleon.
A Europe in which Germany, assisted by Britain, is dominant is
one in which we are all better off. The present Germany is the most
stable and flourishing democracy in the world. This is an
achievement of the German people. That is the real story, which the
British fail to understand. But we apparently prefer to vote UKIP
and demonstrate our stupidity.
The Earth is a dying dust bowl.
Schoolchildren are being taught that the moon landings were faked,
and NASA is driven underground. This is the world of
Caltech professor Kip Thorne wrote The
Science of Interstellar to explain that a lot of hard core physics,
especially string theory, was buried in the story. He had the job of
keeping the moviemakers from violating any known laws of physics,
his criterion for acceptance being something physicists would at
least discuss over beer.
Director Chris Nolan asked for a
planet on which the dilation of time was so severe that one hour
there would correspond to seven years on Earth. Thorne found a way,
with the planet very close to a massive black hole spinning very
fast. Wormholes and the fifth dimension easily pass the beer test.
As long as it was in space in this universe, the movie worked
for me. It was on either end, on Earth and in the fifth dimension,
that it goes off the rails.
2014 November 22
"What gods were to the ancients at war,
ideas are to us."
Lionel Trilling, 1942
to a culture of New York intellectuals, French writers, and British
critics. Nothing seemed more crucial than deciding which books best
reflected the social consciousness of an age. The interpretation of
poetry, fiction, history, and philosophy testified to a moral view
of the world.
Ideas mattered because they had power.
Hegel looked at Napoleon and saw an idea on horseback. Hegel mattered to Marx, Kant had mattered to Coleridge, Schopenhauer
mattered to Tolstoy, and Tolstoy mattered to readers in a way our
best novelists can no longer hope to duplicate.
Postmodernists exposed ideas embedded in the linguistic and social
codes of Western civilization. They mirrored developments in
neuroscience and evolutionary biology. The human brain is a
big idea that can subsume all others. The gods who mesmerized
Trilling have dropped from sight.
Interstellar is all about love, from
generation to generation, and across time and space. Twelve apostles
go out alone into space to look for habitable planets, sacrificing
their lives so that canisters of frozen embryos can be born again.
Science and emotion mingle to create a powerful mystical
atmosphere. Quantum entanglement lets two particles that have
interacted with each other behave as one even when far apart. The
movie shows people in love doing that.
Religious symbols in
the movie include the apostles, a Noah's ark, a fallen angel who
turns satanic in an inverse Garden of Eden, and space project
Lazarus. A vast and incorporeal intelligence offers merciful
salvation. Interstellar is big.
2014 November 21
Space: The Final Frontier
Matthew R. Francis
Planetary scientists want the following
Our sister planet has active geology and
complex meteorology. Previous missions mapped its surface. A few
landed and took samples before being destroyed by the heat and
pressure. The Venus Climate Mission would include multiple
atmospheric probes and a balloon for more measurements.
Saturn's largest moon has mountains of ice and lakes of
methane, and its sky is an orange fog. The Titan Saturn System
Mission would include a boating trip on a lake, an orbiter, and a
balloon that could stay aloft for a long time.
Jupiter's moon Europa has an icy shell over an ocean of liquid
water. The Europa Clipper concept is for a spacecraft designed to
orbit Jupiter and fly low over the moon's surface to scoop up plume
molecules for analysis.
The red planet was once warmer
and wetter than today. Landing a probe on the northern Martian ice
cap to use radar or drill down would tell us about Martian history.
NASA researchers have also designed gliders and balloons to sample
air molecules at various altitudes.
I do too.
2014 November 20
Real And Mythic AI
Real AI would probably be less of a threat
to us than it is as a fake thing. The myth is destructive.
People are social creatures. If a program tells you this is how
things are, this is who you are, this is what you like, or this is
what you should do, we have a tendency to accept that. You have
these algorithms that rely on big data in order to figure out who
you should date, who you should sleep with, what music you should
listen to, what books you should read, and on and on and on.
There is no evidence that the recommendations are particularly
good. And no way to tell where the border is between measurement and
manipulation. It turns into a system that measures which
manipulations work. To make it work, we ignore the contributions
from all the people whose data we grab. Big data systems are useful.
There should be more of them, but if that means more people not
being paid for their contributions, then we have an economic
People benefit from all the free stuff and cheap
stuff that comes out of the system. But you need formal economic
benefit to have a civilization. Things like employment, savings,
real estate, and ownership of property and all these things were
invented to acknowledge the fragility of the human condition.
The notion of the singularity is similar to divinity. This
entity will run the world, and you should be in terrified awe of it.
That looks an awful lot like the new digital economy to me. The
effect of the new religious idea of AI is a lot like the economic
effect of the old idea, religion.
The myth of AI is just a
stupid mess. Real AI is something we can improve and apply in useful
2014 November 19
Britain is granting citizenship to more
migrants than any other EU country. Almost a quarter of new
passports handed out to migrants by the 28 EU member states are
EU states granted citizenship to 820,000 migrants
in 2012: Britain 193,000, Germany 114,000, France 96,000, Spain
94,000, Italy 65,000.
About 15% of new UK passports went to
Indians, 9% to Pakistanis, 5% to Nigerians, 4% to Filipinos. Fewer
than 4% of applications were either refused or withdrawn.
More than 2 million migrants have been given British citizenship
since 2000. Adults qualify for British citizenship after 5 years of
residence in the UK or marriage to a British citizen and must pass a
Home Office test. A spokesman: "British citizenship is a privilege,
not a right."
AR Separate the
immigration issue, which brings integration costs, from EU
membership, which brings business benefits.
Autobiographical memories might not be
key to identity. People who have lost much of their memory tend to
report that their sense of self remains intact. Their caretakers
often detect the same person persisting beneath radical memory loss.
Souls come to the rescue. The soul bestows upon us our unique
identity. A flourishing soul is one in the habit of virtuous acts.
Eastern traditions say the soul is reincarnated according to a
person's moral behavior. Our moral selves survive us in death.
The identity of a person arises from his moral capacities. Asked
which traits a person would most likely still have in a new body,
subjects say moral traits, not episodic memories. They say a patient
is the least like himself after losing his moral faculties.
The single most important mental trait in judging self-identity is
one's deep moral convictions. People are least willing to take
psychoactive drugs that threaten their personal identity. People are
perfectly willing to take drugs that enhance memory or wakefulness.
Our moral capacities are not our most distinctive features. Most
animals that share our zeal for individual identification live in
cooperative societies. The ability to keep track of individuals is
required for reciprocal altruism and punishment.
features are the chief dimension by which we sort and choose social
partners. For men and women alike, the most desired trait is
kindness. Moral character is key in determining whom you like. Know
thyself as a constellation of moral capacities.
Die Seele umfasst sehr viel mehr als der
Geist. Erst seit etwa 50 Jahren ist klar, dass die seelischen
Funktionen mit Mechanismen und Zentren im Gehirn zu tun haben.
Unser Bewusstsein dient dem Gedächtnis: An die bewusst erlebten
Dinge können wir uns viel besser erinnern als an die unbewussten.
Die sprachliche Kommunikation und Handlungsplanung wären ohne
Wir müssen annehmen, dass die
Entwicklung der Seele ein langer evolutionärer Prozess war, der eine
Reihe von Tieren hervorgebracht hat, von denen wir mit ziemlicher
Sicherheit sagen können, dass sie ein Bewusstsein haben.
Hirnforschung behauptet nichts, was philosophisch nicht schon
gedacht war, aber sie kann sagen, was davon naturwissenschaftlich
fundierbar ist und was nicht.
Uni Bremen Prof. Gerhard Roth habe ich
1998 beim Vortrag in Bremen kennengelernt.
2014 November 18
China's New Stealth Fighter
Reuben F. Johnson
The number one attraction at Zhuhai
this year was the new Shenyang FC-31 fighter. It is powered by two
engines based on those in the MiG 29. A senior MiG official said the
Chinese completed the design themselves. But the FC-31 bleeds too
much energy in flight. Even during straight and level flight it
needs afterburners to stay up. These are aerodynamic design defects
a Russian team would not have made. The FC-31 at Zhuhai was in clean
configuration. An aircraft with weapons would fly even worse.
2014 November 17
In 1964, John Stewart Bell proved a theorem
about quantum entanglement. The entangled particles could be far
apart, yet measurements on one particle should affect the other
instantaneously. Bell showed that quantum theory requires
Experimental tests confirm Bell's theorem. But
every test leaves loopholes. One is known as setting independence.
In any test, the researcher selects the settings of the detectors in
the experiment, and the researcher might not act freely.
our proposed experiment, detector settings would be determined by an
observed property of some of the oldest light in the universe. So
any conspiracy would have occurred back at the Big Bang. We expect
to confirm the usual quantum predictions.
2014 November 16
Immigration has steadily barged up the
hierarchy when pollsters ask voters what concerns them most. It now
rivals the economy at number one. All the traditional parties are
struggling to find ways of talking about immigration that stay true
both to their principles and to the national interest.
"slam the door" xenophobes make up around a quarter of all voters.
The young have become more positive about the economic impact of
migrants. Older cohorts who are near or in retirement have remained
negative. Liberals on immigration also represent around a quarter of
The half in the middle are unimpressed by how
governments have managed migration. They endorse the proposition:
“Immigration brings both pressures and economic benefits, so we
should control it and choose the immigration that is in Britain's
best economic interests."
NASA map from the Near Earth
Object (NEO) program: more than 556 space rocks entered the
atmosphere (as bolides) in the last 20 years.
First photo from ESA Rosetta
lander Philae on comet 67P/
The Science of Interstellar
Russell Brand — Awakened Man
2014 November 15
$1 Trillion Nukes
The United States will spend up $1 trillion to
upgrade its nuclear weapons arsenal over the next three decades.
Defense secretary Chuck Hagel: "No other mission we have is more
important. It deters nuclear attack on the United States and our
allies and our partners. It prevents our adversaries from trying to
escalate their way out of failed conventional aggression."
UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond: "If
your ambition is that we have total, unfettered control of our own
borders to do what we like, that isn't compatible with membership of
the European Union, it's as simple as that. And people who advocate
that know jolly well it is not compatible with membership of the
European Union. So if that's what you want, you're essentially
talking about leaving the European Union."
2014 November 14
Islamic State is anti-Western in
outlook but its objectives are local. The focus on theological
explanations obscures what the polls tell us about popular opinion
in the Arab world. The entire region has seen a decline in support
for political Islam.
Defining conflicts in strictly
ideological terms is simply a way of relieving ourselves from any
substantive assessment of the environmental factors at play.
Discussions of the real causes are forgotten for a discourse focused
Surely the ongoing bloodshed in Syria and Iraq
and the use of violence as a political tool across the region is
more important than the ideological outlook of a group whose most
sophisticated theological output so far has been a Friday sermon.
We have allowed the argument that Islam is the problem to
exculpate all other factors. History, politics, and economics are
all deemed irrelevant in the face of Islam. But political violence
demands a political explanation.
Girl is a marital horror story based on a thriller by Gillian
Flynn. Amy and Nick used to be writers in New York but lost their
jobs in the recession. One morning, Nick returns home to find his
wife vanished. He calls the police and finds himself the prime
suspect. The film now begins to shuttle back and forth between the
hunt for Amy and her marital past. Nick and Amy are not who we
initially think they are, but their real identities turn out to be
just as banal as their false ones.
Some fans of the film have
claimed to see in it an indictment of the way in which heterosexual
coupledom enforces oppressive gender roles. This is a perverse
reading. The problem with Amy is that she is an animation of a not
very interesting idea about the female capacity for nastiness. Gone
Girl starts from the delusional premise that the goodness of women
and the loveliness of marriage are potent modern shibboleths and
then sets up a group of gender avatars to "prove" the opposite.
2014 November 13
Jews Back in Germany
On their return to postwar Germany,
Jewish emigrants taught a new generation. Jews had been so creative
in German philosophy since the days of Moses Mendelssohn that the
contributions of both sides are inseparable. The Jewish background
of authors such as Husserl, Simmel, Scheler, or Cassirer was not a
philosophically relevant difference for any student in 1949 who
sensed the historical significance of Auschwitz.
returned to Leipzig in 1949. His expressionistic Marxism survives as
an idiosyncratic document of the time. Julius Kraft, Gottfried
Salomon-Delatour, and Alphons Silbermann resumed teaching at the
universities of Frankfurt and Cologne in 1957 and 1958. Gunther
Anders had done his doctorate under Husserl and returned to Vienna
in 1950, then enjoyed journalistic success as an essayist and
commentator on the atomic age.
Herbert Marcuse spoke at the
Deutscher Soziologentag in Heidelberg in 1964. He had received a
solid philosophical training with Heidegger in Freiburg and adhered
to conventional scientific standards in his philosophical studies.
In his lecture he stuck to a Weberian Marxism that promised to
uncover the internal connection between formal rationality,
domination, and capitalism. I sensed how this hermeneutic exercise
caused a spark to leap across to the young minds. The political
culture of postwar Germany owed its progress in part to Jews.
2014 November 12
The United States and China have unveiled a
secretly negotiated deal to reduce their greenhouse gas output.
China has agreed to cap its emissions by 2030 or sooner and the US
has committed to deep reductions by 2025. The European Union aims to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030.
Nuke the problem — go for
Interstellar is a magnificent film, as well as a classic exposition of
technological optimism and political defeatism. The Earth is facing
planetary catastrophe and its inhabitants look for a place to
Millions of adults consider such fantasies a
realistic alternative to addressing the problems we face on Earth.
claims that gigantic spaceships could be wonderful places to live.
Such fantasies lack imagination. Wild flights of technological
fancy are accompanied by a stolid incapacity to picture the inner
life of those who might inhabit such systems. People who imagine
that human life on Earth will end because of power and greed and
oppression imagine that we will be able to escape these forces in
pressure vessels in space.
Only by understanding this as a religious impulse can we avoid
the conclusion that those who gleefully await this future are
insane. They want to escape the complexities of life on Earth for a
starlit wonderland beyond politics.
2014 Remembrance Day
11th hour minutes of silence in Portcullis House, London,
by observation of parliamentary debates
and luncheon in the
Palace of Westminster
European Commission president Jean-Claude
Juncker is under pressure due to potentially illegal tax deals
forged in Luxembourg during his stint as the country's prime
AR We should remove
this front man for financial piracy.
2014 November 10
Angela Merkel used the 25th anniversary of the
fall of the Berlin Wall to commemorate the Peaceful Revolution thus:
"We can change things for the better — that is the message of the
fall of the Berlin Wall ... To people in Ukraine, in Syria and in
Iraq and in many other regions of the world where freedom and human
rights are threatened ... it is a message of confidence in our
ability to tear down walls today and in future ... The fall of the
Wall has shown us that dreams can come true."
2014 Remembrance Sunday
The War Memorial, Poole Park
Tower Park, Poole
A triumph of the imagination, worthy to inherit the mantle of
the 1968 classic
A Space Odyssey.
Der Fall der Mauer: Heute
vor 25 Jahre
for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) says that
European migrants made a net contribution of £20 billion to UK
public finances between 2000 and 2011. Those from the original 15 EU
countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain, contributed
£15 billion more in taxes than they received in welfare while east
European migrants contributed £5 billion more.
Chinese Shenyang J-31
fighter will fly at
the tenth Zhuhai show
Immigrants from outside the EU cost Britain
almost £120 billion over 17 years. But EU migrants contributed £4
billion more in taxes than they received in benefits.
Xinhua News Agency
Earth from beyond
The fundamental problem in the Mideast
today is not with the Sunni or the Shia or even with Islamic State.
The problem is with religion itself. It is the idea of received
wisdom, divine revelation, the notion that
"I have heard the Truth" and
that everyone else is deluded. This is the corrupting engine of religious violence in the
Mideast. Truth divorced
from evidence is perilous.
2014 November 9
The Sunday Times
The Bank of England governor Mark Carney
will set out his proposals on how to avoid future government
bailouts at the G20 summit in Australia.
As chairman of the
Financial Stability Board, Carney led efforts to insulate taxpayers
from a repeat of the 2008 bank bailouts. The National Audit Office
put the UK government bill for the credit crisis at about £850
billion, mostly in emergency loans and financial guarantees.
Bailout costs in the aftermath of the 2008 crash pushed up national
debt across the world. Britain slashed public spending and taxpayers
are still angry.
AR Too right
they are. Bankers partied at my expense.
Nothing in a personal history is too petty
or vulgar to speak about and nothing too monstrous or grand. That
was the rule that I followed to depict a son's satiric mockery of
his Jewish family, wherein the most comical object of mockery proves
to be the satirizing son himself.
2014 November 8
The German Chancellor wants Britain
to stay in the European Union, as a bulwark against its turning into
an inflationary transfer union. She is calling for transition
controls regarding migration from new EU member states, and she
wants more say for national parliaments over EU law.
puts Angela Merkel and David Cameron at odds is their very different
national systems. The German constitutional order is an
intentionally gummed-up machine, except in matters of monetary
policy. The euro crisis is the kind of crisis German statesmen excel
at resolving. It involves meeting several mutually contradictory
goals in a way that leaves as few disgruntled people as possible.
Merkel wants more sovereignty for Germany but she cannot offer the
concessions Cameron seeks.
Germans are baffled that Cameron
is paying more attention to intra-EU immigration than extra-EU
immigration. Southeast England has become a social welfare magnet
and an international bazaar, yet the locals are complaining about a
few tens of thousands of self-sufficient Poles?
2014 November 7
The New York Times
British spies have the authority to
intercept privileged communications between lawyers and their
clients. They may have illegally exploited that access in some
sensitive security cases. GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 were forced to hand over
secret internal guidelines for monitoring lawyers in response to a
legal challenge. GCHQ guidelines state that "you may, in principle,
target the communications of lawyers" but must "give careful
consideration to necessity and proportionality".
AR Seems OK to me.
2014 November 6
An international investigation into tax
deals struck with Luxembourg has uncovered the multi-billion dollar
tax secrets of multinational corporations. A cache of leaked tax
agreements and other sensitive papers reveals the EU state aiding
tax avoidance on an industrial scale. The documents show hundreds of
companies using complex webs of internal loans and interest payments
to slash their tax bills. These arrangements, signed off by the
Grand Duchy, are legal.
Abomination! Luxembourg should have the same tax regime as Germany.
2014 November 5
GOP WIN BIG
John Boehner: "It's time for government to start getting results
and implementing solutions to the challenges facing our country,
starting with our still-struggling economy."
The Internet of Things
The IoT will connect everything with
everyone, globally. Virtually every aspect of economic and social
life will be linked via sensors and software in the cloud. Big data
will be processed with advanced analytics, transformed into
predictive algorithms, and used to automate the global economy.
The IoT will bolster and expand the surveillance state. Your car,
your heating system, your refrigerator, your fitness apps, your
credit card, your television set, your window shades, your scale,
your medications, your camera, your heart rate monitor, your
electric toothbrush, your washing machine, and your phone generate
streams of data that can be mined and monetarized.
The IoT is about
lots and lots of cheap data. The more things know about you, the
more public life will get. Connecting everyone and everything in a
neural network brings the human race out of the age of privacy and
into the era of transparency. Social media present a curated self,
but the IoT will know our viewing habits, grooming rituals, medical
histories, and more, uncurated.
The IoT will automate
payments and purchases, door and home control, driving and movement
tracking, health and activity monitoring, and continuous sharing
with friends. Businesses will replace people with machines and
deploy sensors and algorithms to rationalize their operations. A new
age of art and unemployment born of robotics, big data, and
AI will dawn globally.
2014 November 4
Every Briton is to be offered a
government-backed virtual ID to store personal data online, file tax
returns and apply for driving licences through a single portal.
Within a year, more than half a million people are expected to start
using the new
Verify scheme to prove their identity, under a radical expansion
of public services available online. The move has prompted privacy
GCHQ is happy to be part of a mature
debate on privacy in the digital age. But privacy has never been an
absolute right. Techniques for encrypting messages or making them
anonymous which were once the preserve of the most sophisticated
criminals or nation states now come as standard. There is no doubt
that young foreign fighters have learnt and benefited from the leaks
of the past two years.
Matthieu Ricard et al.
Meditation can rewire brain
circuits. Advanced meditators appear to acquire a level of skill
that enables them to achieve a focused state of mind with less
effort. Meditation produces significant changes in both the function
and structure of the brains of experienced practitioners. It may
have a substantive impact on biological processes critical for
2014 November 3
EU v UK
UK PM David Cameron is being urged to end tax
credits and benefits for EU migrants.
Angela Merkel says the UK would cross a point of no return if
Cameron imposed an emergency brake on EU migration. She would watch
Britain leave the EU.
Of the 2 million migrants in British low-paid jobs, fewer than half
are from the EU.
UK Conservative MEP Syed Kamall: "One of the
problems we face is that we have a universal benefits system,
whereas other countries have the contributory benefit system."
The plan would cover everyone, so as not to discriminate against
UK v EU
The British public has turned against the
European Union again. A poll shows that if a referendum were held
now, 43% would vote to leave and just 37% to stay in. Three issues:
1 European arrest warrant. David
Cameron says police and security services need Britain to sign up
again to a standard European system for extraditing people facing
criminal charges. UKIP and others say no. Voters: 56% back Cameron,
18% say no.
2 UK payments to the
EU. The EU demands a one-off payment of £1.7 billion because the UK
economy has done better than expected. What voters want: 52% say no,
35% say pay. What voters expect: 61% think we will pay, 22% think we
3 Immigration. Voters
prefer UKIP on this issue:
Nigel Farage 28%, David Cameron 16%,
Ed Miliband 12%, Nick Clegg 5%, can't or won't say 39%.
AR Fortress UK — w**s begin at Calais!
2014 November 2
Western industrialized nations need new
growth. But the governments lack funds for new spending. Central
banks have spent hundreds of billions on economic stimulus packages
following the financial crisis, yet the money is not fructifying the
Companies are hardly investing in new machinery or
factories. Instead, prices are exploding on the global stock, real
estate and bond markets in a dangerous boom driven by cheap money.
Real wages are falling but the rich are getting richer. Banks and
investment firms that used to recycle savings into progress and new
jobs today redistribute wealth from the bottom to the top.
The crisis of capitalism has become a crisis of democracy. Many feel
their governments are being duped by bank lobbyists who threaten
apocalypse to secure privileges. Banks drove the expansion of debt
that caused the crash and now they are inhibiting the recovery. Top
bank executives are making as much as they did before the crisis and
the biggest banks have become bigger.
The United States has
become a debt republic. It has redistributed its $60 trillion of
debt since the crisis. The banks passed on their bad loans to
taxpayers and the government has more debt than ever. Millions of
workers lost their homes and their jobs and the social divide
widened. Wealth has grown at the top while the median household has
become $50,000 poorer since 2007.
The European Central Bank
has become the most powerful bureaucracy in Europe. Its emergency
aid has turned into subsidies that do more harm than good. Deposit
interest rates intended to encourage banks to lend mean banks earn
almost nothing from the spread between savings and lending rates.
The ECB is weakening the credit sector and creating new risks.
We need a new political alliance to take a stand against Big
2014 November 1
The German power system is a patchwork
with millions of small producers. On a sunny and windy day, its
share of renewables now rises above 70%. The output is distributed
through a smart grid.
Offshore wind has proven pricey and
technologically trickier than anticipated. German offshore wind
parks generate 0.6% of its renewably generated electricity, onshore
Solar power farms in North Africa were envisioned
as supplying 15% of all of Europe's electricity by 2050. But
investors are discouraged with the lack of progress and political
instability in the region.
Nuclear power is on the way out.
The cost of new facilities has grown exorbitant. To finance the a
$27 billion plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset, the UK government
promised the French consortium EDF a guaranteed price of more than
twice the current market rate for 35 years.
energy sales paid $22 billion to municipalities in 2012, and
knock-on business another $31 billion. The municipalities saved
nearly $8 billion in fossil fuel imports.
Renewable Energy Sources Act 2000 created a strong incentive to
invest in renewables. The cost is passed on to customers. German
power is among the costliest in Europe.
In 2011, Germany shut
down a third of its nuclear reactors. Renewables now constitute more
of the power supply than brown coal or nuclear, but dirty brown coal
is still burned to fill the gap.
The German patchwork power
system is working. A decentralized power supply based on
intermittent sources can power an industrialized economy.
Poole High Street,
Paragon Space Development Corp.
Eustace, 57, rose 41 km
into space under a balloon and
fell freely down, setting
a new world record.
Bye Bye Bitman
Tower Park, Poole
The movie is a horribly realistic evocation of WW2
combat in a tank. Brad Pitt was good, the mud and gore
were relentless, and the sights and sounds were as
authentic as a movie can make them. In its visceral
evocation of tanker life, the movie reminded me of
Lebanon, a little Israeli movie about IDF soldiers
in a Centurion tank.
Support for EU membership at highest level for 23 years
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
Science is our best answer.
But it takes a philosophical argument to prove that. Science
provides the best description of reality. The realm of philosophy is
in trying to reconcile what science is telling us with other
intuitions we have. A philosophical belief is a moral position that
is arrived at through a system of reasoning and intellectual
Are We Free?
2014 October 31
Mindfulness has been touted as a cure
for pretty well everything. The heart of it is sitting in silence,
thinking about your breath going in and out. Distracting thoughts
are fine so long as you let them go.
Mindfulness is squarely
based on Buddhism. However much people may dislike the idea, the
major world religions have developed to be a comfort and support for
humans in their quest for meaning.
Mindfulness can lead you
to the heart of yourself. Where Buddhism causes us to go within
ourselves, Christianity takes you out of yourself, to God and from
there to others. Being mindful is mostly about me.
2014 October 30
Our Moral Duty
Conservatives are committed to cutting your
taxes. It is morally right that the rich pay their fair share in
tax; and right that those who are able to contribute to our public
services and safety nets do so. But what is morally wrong is
government spending money as if it grows on trees. Every single
pound of public money started as private earning. Every million in
the Treasury represents a huge amount of hard work. Conservatives
understand this basic point.
2014 October 29
Wake Up, Europe
Europe is facing a challenge from Russia.
The European Union and the eurozone lost their way after the
financial crisis of 2008. Now Russia is presenting an alternative
that poses a fundamental challenge to the values and principles on
which the European Union was founded.
Europe and the United
States are determined to avoid any direct military confrontation
with Russia. Russia is taking advantage of their reluctance.
Violating its treaty obligations, Russia has annexed Crimea and
established separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine.
collapse of Ukraine would be a tremendous loss for NATO, the
European Union, and the United States. A victorious Russia would
pose a potent threat to the Baltic states. Not only the survival of
the new Ukraine but the future of NATO and the European Union are at
Sanctions against Russia have a depressive effect on
the European economies. This aggravates the recessionary forces
already at work. By contrast, assisting Ukraine in defending itself
against Russian aggression would have a stimulative effect not only
on Ukraine but also on Europe.
The new Ukraine has the
political will both to defend Europe against Russian aggression and
to engage in radical structural reforms. To preserve and reinforce
that will, Ukraine needs to receive adequate assistance. It is high
time for the members of the European Union to wake up.
Arabs And Apostasy
Compulsion in religion is the ideological
foundation stone of Islamic State and Islamist movements in general.
Believing they have superior knowledge of God's wishes for mankind,
such groups feel entitled to punish those who fail to comply with
the divine will.
Although freedom of belief is a widely
accepted principle internationally, it is still far from established
in the Arab countries. As far as many of the Arab public are
concerned, discriminating against those who hold different beliefs
is the right thing to do. For Arab governments, enforcing religious
rules and allying themselves with God helps to make up for their
lack of electoral legitimacy.
In Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia,
Sudan, the UAE, and Yemen, apostasy is a crime and in theory the
death penalty can apply. Executions for apostasy would trigger an
international outcry, but those states also fear the backlash if
they try to abolish the death penalty.
2014 October 28
The spacetime continuum warps as you watch
Interstellar. A tear in the universe is explained.
Kip Thorne generated equations to guide the special effects
software. The dialogue feels like a math class. The cinematography
has breathtaking moments. The soundtrack is laid on with a heavy
Germanic trowel. A close encounter with the far side of theoretical
physics. For three hours.
Christopher Nolan's grand space opera is
Kip Thorne's work on traversable wormholes.
Interstellar is the
best introduction of scientific theory into blockbuster cinema since
Inception. The last humans, stranded in a distant solar system,
debate quantum theory and the selfish gene as the majesty of the
galaxy sweeps by. Glorious spectacle.
Interstellar is a $160 million sci-fi
epic from Christopher Nolan. Made under the supervision of
Kip Thorne, the film combines abstruse ideas about spacetime
with old fashioned melodrama, great special effects, and a final
nose dive into bathos. As in
Gravity, the filmmakers use the silence of space to accentuate
the eeriness. The music has a sacral feel. A film for sci-fi buffs.
AR Kip Thorne's immortal work was
with Charles W. Misner and John Archibald Wheeler on the massive
Gravitation. For me, the wormhole stuff is general relativity at
the Gödel level, unphysical, unmoderated by the unsolved challenge
of quantum gravity.
Inception was unphysical for me too, based on a strange concept
2014 October 27
A significant section of the Conservative
party follows the views espoused by Tony Benn:
● Benn regarded the state as a
benevolent force, whereas Conservatives want government to play a
smaller role. But in the importance they attach to democracy, and in
their interpretation of what form democratic politics should take,
they have much in common.
originated the idea of a referendum on Europe when the Labour
government held one in 1975. He would advocate withdrawal from the
EU whatever Cameron says or does, on the grounds that the EU can
never be accountable to voters here or elsewhere.
● Benn started a campaign after the 1979
election to make Labour leaders and MPs more accountable to party
members. He supported the right of local parties to deselect MPs and
said constituents, not the national leadership, should hold MPs to
● Benn was animated by
debate rather than tribal loyalties. In his diaries he speaks
admiringly of Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher, on the basis that
they were teachers of conviction.
Conservative party includes libertarians, patrician Tories,
Eurosceptics who want out, Eurosceptics who want to stay in,
pro-Europeans, those who above all seek ministerial office, and a
growing number who have other priorities in politics. Some are
2014 October 26
The Sunday Times
Chancellor Angela Merkel: "Germany will
not tamper with the fundamental principles of free movement in the
David Cameron has staked much on the
renegotiation that will precede his referendum. But he crossed a red
line when he demanded exemption from the principle of free movement
of people. For the other 27 states, that principle defines the
single market. The Poles, Czechs, Bulgarians, and Romanians hear the
rhetoric and conclude that we have lurched into xenophobia.
Narendra Modi, India's new prime minister
and main ideologue of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party,
is stoking old Hindu fires over what he calls more than a thousand
years of slavery under Muslim and British rule.
A rhetoric of
national aggrandizement can quickly slide into reckless
warmongering. The ideology of anti-imperialist imperialism in a
modern state with media and nuclear technology can make Islamic
fundamentalists seem toothless.
2014 October 25
Britain, in common with other countries,
has been enriched economically, culturally and socially by
immigration. The unilateral rejection of free movement by the UK
would encourage similar reprisals against the 1.8 million British
citizens living abroad in the EU. Such a retreat into protectionism
and nativism would be an act of collective self-harm.
2014 October 24
Patrons Dinner, Bulbury
Woods Golf Club
Desmond Swayne MP
"I fully support the Prime ministers
refusal to pay this extra £1.7 billion. It is absurd to impose what
is effectively a tax on economic success. All political parties
should be united to fight this, this is not the time to posture
smugly from the sidelines, British politicians need to act together
to see this off."
Julie Girling MEP
2014 October 23
Fifty years ago, Idries Shah published
The Sufis. Now the Idries Shah Foundation is bringing out new
editions in English and commissioning translations of his work into
Persian, Arabic and Urdu.
Sufism has embraced free thinkers
and people concerned with human development from many cultures
throughout history. Classical Sufis in the Islamic world include
Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Fariduddin Attar, and Avërroes. Many of their
ideas passed to Europe through contacts between the Islamic and
Christian worlds in the crusader states, Norman Sicily, and the
Shah, who died in 1996, broke new ground
by explaining Sufism accessibly, often in psychological terminology.
He went on to write more than 30 books on Sufism, selling over 15
million copies in dozens of languages. Sufism is a natural antidote
AR I discussed Shah and Sufism in my
2014 October 22
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
Plato laid out the terrain of
philosophy. The methodology of philosophy is the argument, exploring
implications, thought experiments, counter-examples. Philosophy has
to happen in the clash of points of view. You need these other
points of view. The sparkiest lecturer I ever heard was
Saul Kripke. He would stand
there and just catch fire! He was giving lectures on
Platonism is constantly referred to in philosophy of
mathematics. The American Mathematical Association found that
something like 98% of mathematicians described themselves as
Platonists. There is a kind of commitment to the existence of the
abstract. Every theoretical physicist I've ever known has believed
that not only is reality given to us in the language of mathematics,
but that when we have two empirically adequate theories, you go with
the one that has the most beautiful mathematics. That's Plato!
AR Gödel was a Platonist too, as I
found 40 years ago as a grad student. I found Kripke a sparky
lecturer too, even in his logic days before he morphed into
2014 October 21
Those in power use the rhetoric of terror
not only to sway public opinion but also to direct attention away
their own acts of terror. The rhetoric erases any incentive to
understand the nature and origins of grievances, deflects attention
away from policies that might have contributed to the grievances,
repudiates any calls for negotiation, obliterates the distinction
between national liberation movements and fringe fanatics, and paves
the way for the use of force.
The rhetoric of terror actually
increases the likelihood of terrorism. It magnifies the effect of
terrorist actions by heightening the fear among the target
population. Those who succumb to the rhetoric contribute to the
cycle of revenge and retaliation by endorsing military actions that
grievously harm the populations among whom terrorists live. A
violent response is likely to stiffen the resolve of those from
whose ranks terrorists have emerged, leading them to regard their
foes as people who know only the language of force. The result is a
nightmare of skewed reason and perpetual warfare.
2014 October 20
European Commission president José Manuel
Barroso: "If you support continued membership of the EU you need to
say what Europe stands for and why it is in the British interest to
be part of it. And you need to start making that positive case well
in advance, because if people read only negative and often false
portrayals in their newspapers from Monday to Saturday, you cannot
expect them to nail the European flag on their front door on
Polish ambassador to the UK Witold Sobków: "We want
the UK to remain in the EU so we will do our best to help the
British government introduce some reforms in the functioning of the
EU, enabling the UK to remain in the EU."
Barroso: "I too
come from a country with a long history, a trading nation, proud of
its culture and tradition. And it may be a revelation to some, but
the vast majority of people living in Europe are also rather
attached to their national identity, however they may choose to
Einstein proved that whether an observer deems
two events at different locations to be happening at the same time
depends on his state of motion. Whether two events are simultaneous
is relative to the observer. And once simultaneity goes, the
division of moments into past, present, and future becomes
on the occasion of Einstein's 70th birthday, Kurt Gödel presented
Einstein with a proof of the nonexistence of time. Playing with
Einstein's equations of general relativity, Gödel found a novel
solution that corresponded to a universe with closed timelike loops.
A resident of such a universe could travel back into his own past.
Einstein was not pleased, but Gödel was delighted. A past that can
be revisited has not really passed. So, Gödel concluded, time does
At the tiniest of scales, the fabric of space-time
dissolves into a quantum foam in which events have no determinate
temporal order. Temporal matters are even stranger if we look back
at the Big Bang. Stephen Hawking says that asking what came before
the Big Bang is as silly as asking what's north of the North Pole.
AR Gödel was a Kantian about time.
Quantum granularity makes this harder. We are immersed in time,
whether our concept of time is correct or not.
2014 October 19
I am concerned about the mangling of
language that makes possible the creation of tyranny. The
overwhelming weight of the problem lies in the world of Islam, and
much of it has its roots in the ideological language of blood and
war emanating from the Salafist movement within Islam, globally
backed by Saudi Arabia.
The deformed medievalist language of
fanaticism, dubbed "jihadi-cool", is being heard more and more in
mosques and on social media. A Saudi opinion poll shows that 92% of
respondents agree that ISIS conforms to the values of Islam and
Islamic law. Hate-filled religious rhetoric, pouring from the mouths
of ruthless fanatics into the ears of angry young men, has become
the most dangerous new weapon in the world today.
aversion toward such a force is not bigotry.
The 1958 Treaty of Rome established
freedom of movement for labour, capital, goods, and services within
the European Economic Community. Over the years, free movement
rights have been extended to let people move to look for jobs within
the European Union as well as take them.
The UK government agreed
to allow in workers from the new member states in 2004. The UK
wanted the countries of the former Eastern bloc in the EU. The
economy was doing well, and immigrant workers were likely to boost
it. Also, the UK had no right to stop them from coming here.
Since 2004, studies showed no significant evidence that EU migration
had reduced native job prospects. Immigrants complement rather than
substitute for natives, helping raise wages and productivity for
everybody. Some immigrants abuse the benefit system, but migrants
are about half as likely to be on unemployment benefit as natives.
Recent immigrants from the EU are much younger, and much more
likely to be in work, than the average Briton. And since most public
spending goes on pensions, health care for older people, and
education, the overall impact on the deficit is positive. Stopping
EU migration would cost public services more in lost tax revenue
than it would save in reduced demand.
2014 October 18
Election Agent Training in Shaftesbury, Dorset
2014 October 17
XMM-Newton space observatory may have detected dark matter
particles called axions. Dark matter is thought to make up about 85%
of all the matter in the universe.
Researchers at Leicester
University spotted the signal in 15 years of data from the
observatory. The intensity of x-rays it recorded rose by about 10%
whenever it observed the boundary of Earth's magnetic field facing
From their report in the
Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: "It appears plausible
that axions — dark matter particle candidates — are indeed produced
in the core of the sun and do indeed convert to x-rays in the
magnetic field of the Earth."
2014 October 16
Former Sex Pistol John Lydon calls
Russell Brand a "bum hole" for refusing to vote.
His advice: Read
as much as you can and "find out who's using you".
The Hunt for the Higgs
Following six scientists during the launch of the Large
Hadron Collider, where experts recreated the conditions just moments after the
Big Bang and revealed the Higgs boson, this documentary gives an insight into a
"Margaret Thatcher detached the Conservative Party from
"One should remember that enslaving the
families of the kuffar — the infidels — and taking their women as
concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah, or Islamic
A 200 hp V-2 engine in an
carbon-fiber frame for
Hannover, April 1945: Two Sherman tanks rumble into
the square. One has "Fury" scrawled on its gun barrel and Brad Pitt
poking out of the turret. The movie includes a real Tiger tank from
Bovington Tank Museum. One detail is wrong. In WW2 the average age
of a combat soldier was 26 and the cutoff age for the US draft was
38. Pitt is 50.
In the British folk memory,
1940 was the
defining moment when the country stood alone to fight Nazi Germany.
Britain's wartime experience was immortalized in the TV show
with its song
Who do you think you're
kidding, Mr Hitler?
The Zone of Interest
is the best novel Amis has written since The Information.
His fixation on the most violent and debased aspects of humanity
find a commensurate subject in the darkest abominations of the last
century. There are few contemporary novelists who can render
violence and stupidity with such forceful style and intelligence.
Me in Poole High Street
"The question concerning the
role of world Jewry is not a racial
but a metaphysical question."
2014 October 15
Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace
Prize but Pakistani schools are in a desperate state of rot.
Pakistan has over 50 million school-age children. Its constitution
guarantees all of them a free and compulsory education. But almost
half of them, mostly girls, are not attending school. Even at
school, only half the pupils reach the competence levels of kids
years several years younger in other countries. Over half of the
primary schools have no working electricity, over a third have no
drinking water on site, and 2 in 5 don't even have working toilets.
Contracts for schools and teachers afford politicians the
opportunity to distribute patronage.
In my survey of philosophers, almost 3 in 4
said they accepted or inclined to atheism, while fewer than 1 in 6
accepted or inclined to theism. Atheists have a strong case against
God as a scientific hypothesis. Believers can say any concepts of
God fall short of the divine reality.
apparent contradictions in its doctrines. An appeal to mystery is
inevitable. The fundamental revelation is the moral ideal expressed
in the New Testament Christ. Engagement with the practices inspired
by that ideal is the only requirement for being a Catholic.
Islam was once connected with traditions of philosophical reflection
that tempered excesses of blind faith. Such traditions are still
effective in many parts of the Muslim world, but in some places they
have failed and a fanatical mutation has gone out of control.
2014 October 14
Pay is also a token of respect. To deny a
below-inflation 1% to nurses was a calculated provocation. With its
Health and Social Care Act, the government wasted billions in a
chaotic reorganization of the NHS that cabinet ministers now call a
disaster. The current fragmentation of the NHS has set trusts
to compete against each other for income, staff, and patients in a
sham health market. If ordinary laws of the market worked, nurses
should be in a powerful bargaining position. But some in the NHS get
large bonuses, such the John Radcliffe hospital CEO who gets a
£30,000 bonus on top of his £215,000 pay, defended by his local MP: "There should be performance related pay for key people." This
is an affront to other NHS key people and a microcosm of warped
rewards across the UK.
UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt warns that the
ebola outbreak is becoming as serious as the AIDS epidemic.
AR Respect nurses
and pay them.
2014 October 13
The racism behind the UKIP message is
repugnant. Facts: 2.2 million Britons live in continental Europe,
while 2.3 million other EU citizens live here. Some 77% of our EU
migrants work, while 72% of Britons do. EU migrants form 2.1% of UK
welfare recipients. But last year there was a 30% rise in net
migration to Britain to 212,000, fueled largely by migrants from
southern Europe, while 320,000 Brits emigrated, the fewest since
2008. Migrants form 8% of the UK population (10% including dependent
children). Black and Asian ethnic groups form 11% of the population.
UKIP is a protest vote.
2014 October 12
A new poll suggests that 1 in 4 voters would
vote for UKIP at the next general election, to give both Labour and
Conservatives 31% and Liberal Democrats 8%. This could give Labour
253 MPs, Conservatives 187, UKIP 128, Lib Dems 11, and other parties
Martin Wolf says academics and policymakers
displayed ignorance and arrogance in the run-up to the financial
crisis. When crisis struck, major central banks rescued troubled
banks and sustained money supplies, but we got a depression all the
Hyman Minsky argued that periodic financial crises are
a more or less unavoidable feature of capitalism. Borrowers and
lenders become complacent and underestimate the risks of high levels
of debt. Leverage rises year after year. Then something goes wrong.
This is the Minsky moment.
The economics establishment
identified financial crisis with bank runs by depositors. Yet by
2008 depository institutions were no longer the dominant form of
banking. Institutions like money market funds and investment banks
were both unsecured and unregulated. Policymakers convinced
themselves that such innovation was making the system more stable
and efficient. They were wrong.
It is tempting to turn it all
into a morality play. Two reasons to be skeptical:
1 If the secular stagnationists are
right, advanced economies suffer from persistently inadequate
demand. Depression is their normal state, except when spending is
supported by bubbles. So bubbles are good because they prop up
demand. We need policies to support demand on a continuing basis.
2 Even if you believe that financial
excess set the stage for the slump, there was still no good reason
why the slump had to be so terrible. Given low interest rates, the
stimulus could have been bigger and gone on longer. An obsession
with deficits and fiscal austerity deepened and extended the slump.
Debt, shadow banking, international imbalances, and so on helped
set the stage for disaster, but intellectual shifts arguably played
an equally large part in the crisis. Conventional economic analysis
fell short, but policymakers made the situation worse.
Politics is something I've acquired through
growing up in a single-parent family, being on the dole, then being
a drug addict. There's a lot of anarcho-collectivism in the
fellowship around abstinence-based recovery. I want to address the
alienation and sense of despair that you see all around us. It don't
matter to me how much people have a go at me. I'm ready to die for
Karl Marx designed one of the most powerful and
influential economic and social philosophies of recent history.
Regardless of what I do, madness is coming. And I'll be happy to
participate in whatever way I can. But I don't think it will be by
joining an already antiquated and defunct system. I'm not asking for
an invitation to the party. I'm saying the party's over.
AR I won't be voting for him.
Recent US actions aimed at countering sexual
assault reveal little uniformity on how to define rape.
2012, the FBI still considered rape a crime committed solely against
women. For statutory rape, some states set rules for a minimum age
difference between partners. In some states, active resistance is
required for rape, and merely saying no is insufficient. Only 40
years ago, no state allowed husbands to be prosecuted for raping
their wives, and 60 years ago, in some states, sex between a black
man and a white woman was considered rape.
Some see an urgent
need for national standards regarding rape and sexual assault.
2014 October 11
The New York Times
The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize goes to
Malala Yousafzai, 17, and the Indian child rights campaigner Kailash
Satyarthi, 60. The prize committee chairman said it was important
for "a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a
common struggle for education and against extremism" as they share
the $1.1 million prize.
Prime Minister David Cameron says the double
by-election results puts Labour leader Ed Miliband closer to power.
Some Conservatives say Cameron should take advantage of the UKIP
challenge to Labour in the north.
MP Jacob Rees-Mogg: "We
should think about what that means in terms of the UKIP-Conservative
relationship, because the Conservative family could win a majority
on that basis. Otherwise, the only thing we manage is mutually
MP Peter Bone: “If we can get that vote
as one we would have a massive centre-right majority in parliament,
but if we split the vote we could have Labour winning on 31-32% of
The scientific enterprise is often
seen as a large and dispassionate machine in which objective
scientists seek cold facts from experiments. This leaves out the
excitement, awe, and wonder that motivate many scientists.
Curiosity and wonder have driven the scientific enterprise. Changes
in the notion of curiosity from vice to virtue have gone hand in
hand with the development of empirical methods in science. A slow
and gradual honing and growing sophistication of our understanding
is driven by accumulating data enabled by the invention of new
instruments. As empirical evidence accumulates, theories aim at a
more comprehensive explanation that subsumes earlier views.
Two other forces that condition science are serendipity and
ignorance. Scientists continually uncover new facts that confront
them with the extent of their ignorance. Breakthroughs in
understanding are essentially unforeseeable even to a seasoned mind.
Researchers can be held captive by their entrenched intuitions and
refuse to accept new ideas until they are faced with overwhelming
empirical evidence contradicting their views. Blunders are part of
A view of how science actually works
might reduce the misunderstanding and distrust of science.
2014 October 10
Strong surge for UKIP in two by-elections:
In Clacton, Tory defector Douglas Carswell secured a resounding
victory with a 12,404 majority and 60% of the vote. He returns to
the Commons as the first UKIP MP.
In Heywood & Middleton,
UKIP destroyed a Labour majority of 5,971 to come second with 38.7%
of the vote compared with 40.1% for Labour.
2014 October 9
The Zone of Interest, by Martin Amis, and J,
by Howard Jacobson, return to the Holocaust:
believes that the subject demands disorientation, reticence, and
confusion. J takes place in a future England, somewhere around the
year 2070. As Jacobson sketches in more of his fictional world, it
becomes clear that it is afflicted by a continual, habitual
violence. Then there are the more pointed and private omens.
Jacobson is imagining an English Holocaust, set to take place
sometime around the year 2020. He has written a horror story about a
Holocaust that changes history and even human nature. The real
horror of the real Holocaust is that it did no such thing.
Amis deliberately circumvents the conventions of Holocaust
writing. Nearly the whole cast of The Zone of Interest are
perpetrators. Amis has written a comedy that happens to be set in
Auschwitz. The protagonists are the administrators of the camp. The
horror is made to bleed through the edges of the story. Amis writes
beautifully and originally about Auschwitz. The book conjures
everyday life there. We see not overt savagery but carefully chosen
moments of pathos and irony. The crime of Auschwitz was to assign
the victims and the perpetrators their roles in an ideological
2014 October 8
Islam in Real Time
Ben Affleck is now being lauded for having
exposed my and Bill Maher's racism, bigotry, and hatred of Muslims.
I say we have to be able to criticize bad ideas, and Islam is the
Mother lode of bad ideas.
Affleck and others imagine that
ISIS is functioning like a bug light for psychopaths by attracting
disaffected young men who would do terrible things to someone,
somewhere, in any case. These disturbed individuals travel to a
foreign desert for the privilege of decapitating journalists and aid
workers. I await an entry in the DSM-VI that describes this
Affleck and others are confused about
Islam. Like many secular liberals, they refuse to accept the
abundant evidence that vast numbers of Muslims believe dangerous
things about infidels, apostasy, blasphemy, jihad, and martyrdom.
And they do not realize that these doctrines are about as
controversial under Islam as the resurrection of Jesus is under
We need honest talk about the link between
belief and behavior. No one is suffering the consequences of what
Muslim extremists believe more than other Muslims.
Is It Is or Is It Ain't?
"President Obama keeps insisting that ISIS is not Islamic. Well,
maybe they don't practice the Muslim faith in the same way he does.
But if vast numbers of Muslims across the world believe — and they
do — that humans deserve to die for merely holding a different idea
or drawing a cartoon or writing a book or eloping with the wrong
person, not only does the Muslim world have something in common with
ISIS, it has too much in common with ISIS."
2014 October 7
Physics Nobel for Blue LED
Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano at Nagoya
University in Japan, and Shuji Nakamura at the University of
California in Santa Barbara, share the 2014 Nobel prize for physics
for developing blue light emitting diodes in the late 1980s. Since
then, the blue LED has transformed the way we light our world, watch
movies, and store data.
LEDs are made from multiple layers of
semiconductor sandwiched together, one with an excess of electrons
and the next with an excess of positively charged holes. Applying a
voltage to the device drives the electrons and holes together into
the filling layer, where they combine to emit light. Its color
depends on the semiconductor material. Gallium nitride doped with
indium has the quantum properties to emit blue light, but it was
hard to make a semiconductor sandwich with a gallium nitride
In 1986, Akasaki and Amano made one by adding an
extra layer to the sandwich. Meanwhile, Nakamura did so by growing a
gallium nitride crystal first at low temperatures and then at higher
temperatures. The trio went on to turn their blue LEDs into blue
lasers, used in Blu-ray players. LED units make more efficient
AR These guys published
their first book on the blue LED with Springer while I was there
working on the physics books.
2014 October 6
Brain Science Nobel Prize
The Nobel prize in physiology or medicine
has been awarded to three scientists who located specialized cells
in the brain responsible for helping us to navigate our world. One
half of the award went to John O'Keefe at University College London
and the other half to the husband and wife team May-Britt and Edvard
Moser, both at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.
O'Keefe discovered in 1971 that certain cells in the hippocampus
were only active when an animal was in a particular place in a
certain orientation in its environment. The same combination of
cells was active when the animal visited the same location, but a
different combination was active when visiting another site,
suggesting that the activity of these cells helps the animal build
an internal map of its environment. The Moser team later found
another component of our internal navigation system within the
Robert D. Kaplan
By the year 2000, Asia accounted for 20%
of global military expenditure. Asia's share of arms imports
increased to over 40% of the world total. In 2011, China's defense
budget rose to nearly $100 billion. China is now the world's second
largest military spender.
China has over 60 submarines and
will have around 75 or so in the next few years, slightly more than
the United States. China is outbuilding the United States in new
submarines by 4 to 1 since 2000 and by 8 to 1 since 2005.
2014 October 5
The British Constitution
Constitutional issues keep pushing forth
in the UK: the European Union, the role and composition of the House
of Lords, and the independence referendum in Scotland.
the Westminster Parliament created devolved bodies in Scotland,
Wales, and Northern Ireland. The devolved bodies, unlike the House
of Commons, were to be elected by proportional representation.
The British government now has an English problem. English
Conservative MPs will not support further devolution unless
something is done for England. They propose English votes for
The British are not wholly foolish in regarding
constitutional issues as less important than social and economic
ones. Britain is governed not by logic but by Parliament.
Shaping Virtual Lives
Representations, and Conducts
Krawczyk-Wasilewska, Theo Meder, and Andy Ross
"This is an
interesting and necessary book, which should stand side by side with
Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga's book
— Eda Kalmre
issue "Homo Ludens: Describing
Virtual Lives" edited by Mare Kalda,
Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore, 57/2014, 189-190
The Frost Report
It was to become a great joke among writers
that in the final credits of the TV show every week the words
"Written by" were closely followed by the words "David Frost" in
large letters and then, after a slight gap, by the word "and" in
smaller letters and finally, in even smaller letters, the names of a
couple of dozen writers. David was endearingly shameless in matters
such as these.
2014 October 4
No forensic or analytic account of reading can
do justice to the strange interplay between levels of reality we
apprehend when we read deeply. Reading on screen is fundamentally
different. Digital text will bring with it new forms of reading,
learning, memory, and even consciousness.
The book is in
retreat. The relationship between words and revenue is debatable. A
certain kind of expertise was understood to have a value to its
consumers that was both constant and capable of being monetized at a
fixed rate. The web snapped this inelasticity. Follow the money.
Richard Dawkins is an evangelist. He says memes
leap from brain to brain, via a process that can be called
imitation, and he sees this process at work throughout human
culture. But a meme-based Darwinian account of religion is at odds
with the assault on religion as a type of intellectual error. If
Darwinian evolution applies to religion, then religion must have
some evolutionary value.
Science may show that humans are not
and can never be rational animals. Perhaps religion cannot be
eradicated from the human mind. Dawkins is an ideologue of
scientism, the positivistic creed according to which science is the
only source of knowledge and the key to human liberation. Religion
is irrational, and we will all be better off without it. This is his
argument for atheism.
2014 October 3
Anna Della Subin
The American Psychological Association
estimates that 1 in 5 of American men and women are chronic
procrastinators. In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association
declared procrastination a symptom of mental illness. Why not view
procrastination as an act of resistance against the strictures of
time and productivity?
2014 October 2
The Quran presents Abraham as an adherent of
Islam. A primordial faith connects humanity to one God and leads in
turn to Judaism, Christianity, and then historical Islam as
proclaimed by Muhammad. Jewish and Christian communities were
considered often to be imperfect monotheists.
Shia Islam is a
religious tradition in which the presence of the divine through the
Imam provides the path to salvation. The Imam is the Law and the
revelation. Believers follow the path to salvation through their
devotion and obedience to the Imam. Sunni traditions tend to be more
pragmatic about politics.
Integrated Information Theory, developed by
Giulio Tononi, says that
consciousness is a property of complex systems that have a
particular way of interacting with the world. But a digital
simulation would not be conscious.
Consciousness is a
fundamental property of the universe. But it takes a particular type
of hardware to instantiate it. If you were to build a computer in
the appropriate way, like a neuromorphic computer, it could be
People are going to abuse
computer intelligence, blindly maximize for some goal. It will lead
to more and more concentration of power among fewer and fewer
people. I think there is really an existential danger to the
RoboLaw consortium told the European parliament that robots
could act independently if they had the legal status of a
corporation. Driverless cars could reduce accidents by 97%, but
under present legislation the manufacturer could be liable for
accidents. New insurance schemes could address this.
2014 October 1
MIT Technology Review
Robots are safe and smart enough to
work alongside people on BMW production lines. These robots are
increasing productivity and flexibility but they are relatively slow
and lightweight, which makes them safer to work around.
Robots on production lines promise to transform the division of
labor between people and machines. Traditional robots work well but
they are unsafe with anyone nearby. The new robots can automate more
the production process.
The next generation of robots to
work with humans will be faster and more powerful. The sensors and
computer power needed to react quickly and intelligently to safety
risks are now cheap. Mixed teams can be more productive.
||© J. Andrew Ross